Naked (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
June 19, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: 2 Corinthians 5:1–5:17
PROPER 6/B (2018): Ezek. 17:22-24; 2 Cor. 5:1-17; Mk. 4:26-34
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked (vv. 1-3).
This is man’s problem from the Fall, isn’t it? When Adam and Eve sinned, they cast off their Divine coverings, the righteousness of God by faith. At the moment of believing Satan against the Creator the eyes of man and woman were opened to being bereft of God. By loss of God’s righteousness came the shame of their nakedness (Gen. 3:10).
To possess knowledge of good and evil apart from our Creator, in whom alone there is life, is to possess the knowledge of death inhering in our being. This was the shame that drove Adam and Eve to hide from God coming into their presence in the Garden.
St. Paul says that our bodies are destined for destruction. He calls them “earthly tents” in which we groan over what has been lost. Both pagan and Christian art reflects sinful man’s longing for restoration to the innocence of male and female physical forms.
Michelangelo’s sculpture in marble, “The David” famously captured this yearning and perhaps something of our lost memory of what God intended of man’s physical form. From a human perspective out of the mind of Michelangelo, the beauty of man was fleetingly captured in stone; a frozen, single, youthful, moment in time.
For the moment we put aside an idealized vision of the “perfectly” proportioned, virile, and handsome David. Scripture returns us to reality; our common inheritance by sin, the mocking shame of nakedness on death’s bed.
The beginning of 1 Kings (1Kg. 1:1-4), shows David an impotent old man, bearing the ravages of the time and sin into which he was conceived. The king’s “tent”, to continue St. Paul’s image, was no longer beautiful and vital. He is weak, pallid, gamy, wizened, and suffering from cold’s poor circulation.
Israel’s elders searched out a fleshly covering and comfort for their dying king; Abishag the Shunammite, reputedly the most beautiful young woman in all Israel, was recruited to lie beside David to infuse in him warmth and perhaps the memory that woman, as Adam named his wife, “mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).
But even Abishag’s respite could not forestall for David the naked shame of death and the grave to which he must return; and neither would God spare Jesus, David’s greater son by Mary, the shame of the cross and the destruction of his “fleshly tent” on account of sin.
From the cross and Scripture our eyes are now drawn to Michelangelo’s “The Pieta”, sculpturing Mary holding and beholding her dead Son, the picture of God’s prophecy to the woman that on account of sin, “I will surely multiply your distresses and your moanings. In distresses you will bear children (Gen. 3:16).
But in heaven even the marble memorials of the old creation are passing away, as will all man’s art and imagination. They cannot compare with “the house not made with hands” (2 Cor. 5:1b) in the resurrected flesh of Jesus, a tent now a Temple, prepared by God for our eternal dwelling. Our dwelling place in the new creation coming into being is a righteous covering in the flesh of the woman’s Seed who, on the cross crushed the serpent’s head and who in turn was bruised for our iniquity (Gen. 3:15).
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches the crowds by parables and explains them to his disciples, at once hiding and revealing the “reign of God” come into the world by his ministry.
Jesus has posited that Satan lays claim to the world and all in it to be his possessions in a house of sin and rebellion. Against Satan, Jesus declared that he is the Man “Stronger” than Satan come to invade his stronghold; that he would bind Satan and release men from the house of death. Apart from Jesus’ reign, escape from Satan’s bondage is not possible (Mk. 3:27; cf. 5:1 ff.).
We proclaim the good news of Jesus crucified and so in the Resurrection we are baptized into Jesus’ victory and binding of Satan. And yet as we look about us it doesn’t always seem so. Sin and death still appear, even dominate.
Jesus explains in two parables. The church has one job only, and even that one thing is not the cause of our release from the house of Satan. The church pictured as “The Pieta” bears in her hands the flesh of Jesus crucified which is her glory. She is given to cast her divine Seed into the world, the word of God.
While the church sleeps, suffers, and is concerned for the gospel after sowing, the Seed unseen germinates in good soil moving it to grow in stages of divine dominion over the house of Satan. The earth produces automatically without the help of its slumbering helpmate; first the shoot, next the ear, and finally the full grain in the ear, and we know not how (Mk. 4:27, 28).
If we, in this time of the NT church, are unable to plumb the Seed’s miraculous growth in the soil, we are nevertheless to discern and attend over time the power of God bringing about his new creation until the Last Day when “the full grain in the ear” is revealed to all at the Judgment. In short the reign of God comes of itself.
It may seem that Satan continues to hold human chattel in sin’s thralldom; but Jesus, the Man stronger than Satan, does not do battle on worldly terms. God’s dominion is in the arena of the elevated cross, where Jesus in weakness utterly submitted himself to God, taking our naked shame onto himself to exalt God for the love of men. By Jesus’ naked shame and death in our place, the law and its hellish Prosecutor are overcome and bounded by the gift of faith. Sin and death are thus destroyed in the water and Word of Baptism.
By Baptism we have entered into Jesus’ death for receipt of a righteous covering before God. The Shulammite of the Song of Songs, after David’s death, was betrothed to Solomon. Jesus is David’s greater son (Ps. 110:1), with whom the church, his Shulammite is clothed in a righteous bridal dress; and held in the tender warmth of God’s love, and against whom the gates of hell will not prevail (Mt. 16:18).
The reign of God by a miniscule, fallen, crucified Seed (Jn. 12:24) is revealed to those who will see the power of God in the church’s expansive mustard branches from the cross reaching out to cover the sin of the world. Amen.